Alain le Roux, Count of Brittany (Earl of Richmond)

November 24, 2010 by Mercedes Rochelle | Filed under General Topics.

Alain le Roux (c. 1040–1094) is one of my favorite historical characters who seems to have been relatively important in his time, but nobody seems to have heard of him.  Why do I like him so much?  Well, as I see it he went with  the flow (so to speak), amassed an incredible fortune (according to Wikipedia, at the time of his death he was worth around $166.9 billion, the equivalent of 7% of England’s national income.  Forbes placed him 9th in the list of most wealthy historical figures) and modestly did his thing, managing to keep King William happy as well as historians.

Alain – called le Roux because of his red beard – hits  the historical stage around the time of the Norman Conquest.  He was in charge of the Breton contingent, a sizeable part of William’s invasion force.  If you recall, the Breton wing of the Norman army at the Battle of Hastings nearly lost the day: they were the first to panic and flee from the ferocity of the Saxons.  For a moment all was in chaos, then many of the inexperienced Saxon fyrd broke the shield wall and pursued the Bretons.  However, William rallied his men and cut off the Saxons from the rest of the army, wiping them out to a man.  Seeing the success of the maneuver, William instructed the Bretons to do it a couple of times more throughout the battle, with great success.

After William become king he rewarded his supporters with grants of land and titles.  Alain was created the first Earl of Richmond, and a Norman keep stands on the site of his original castle overlooking the River Swale. In 1069, during the great Harrying of the North after the insurrection of Durham, Alain was the man William appointed to do the job.  By the end of his career, he had amassed over 250,000 acres in land grants.  Yet he is said to have died childless and his estate was inherited by his brother Alain le Noir (so- called because of his black beard).

Early in my research for my upcoming novel,  “Heir to a Prophecy” I unearthed a story that my protagonist Walter actually went to Brittany and married Alain’s daughter, later taking her to Scotland and the court of Malcolm III where he was a favorite.  Although this is probably apocryphal, I did recently find an anecdote that makes me wonder if it could be true.

Just the other day I was reading the book “The House of Godwine: The History of a Dynasty” (by Emma Mason) which was written 5 years ago.  Four pages from the end, the author states that King Malcolm planned to marry his daughter Edith to Count Alan the Red in 1093 (she was in the Wilton nunnery at the time), and King William Rufus forbid the union, causing Malcolm to storm out of the royal court. Now, why would Malcolm care about Alain unless there was some sort of connection between them (Walter)?

Even more interesting (to me, that is), instead of Malcolm’s daughter, Alain actually took a fancy to another important novice at Wilton: Gunhild, daughter of Harold Godwineson and Edith Swanneck.  At the same time Malcolm took his daughter out of Wilton, Alain removed Gunhild (by then well into her 30s) and brought her to live with him…on the very estates he had taken over from her wealthy mother after Hastings.  When Alain died around 1094, Gunhild stayed and became the partner of Alain’s brother Le Noir, who succeeded to the estates.  What did she have to lose, after all?


348 Responses to “Alain le Roux, Count of Brittany (Earl of Richmond)”

  1. As the Wikipedia article on Stephen of Treguier cites only Charles Cawley (“Medieval Lands: Foundation for Medieval Genealogy”, at fmg.ac/Projects/MedLands/), it might be best first to look into his sources.

  2. Correction: the Aethelbehrt whose law code resembles the “Excerpta de Libris Romanorum et Francorum” is Aethelberht of Kent (reigned 558/560 – 24 February 616). According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle his wife was Bertha, daughter of Charibert I, Frankish king of Paris (born c. 517, died December 567). Possible due to this connection, the Pope sent Augustine, who arrived on the island of Thanet in East Kent in 597; Aethelberht converted to Christianity shortly thereafter. Aethelberht’s law is the earliest known written code in any Germanic language.

    Charibert’s an odd character: although educated in law, he was violent, which led to his excommunication, and dissolute, causing his premature death. He was buried in a seaside military fort, “Blavia castellum” in the “Tractus Armorica” (the Frank-occupied part of Armorica). Robin Mackintosh’s book on Saint Augustin states that Blavia was in present-day Normandy, but Bernard Bachrach’s “Merovingian Military Organization, 481-751” says it was in the Aquitanian part of Armorica (Poitou?).

    • I am wondering whether the scholars have confused the place of burial of Charibert I with that of Charibert II, King of Aquitaine (lived 607/617–8 April 632, reigned from 629), who was buried at Blavia Castellum (modern Blaye) on the Gironde river in Aquitaine.

  3. Oh wow! Regarding the origin of the name “Arthur”, as derived from a word for “bear”.

    Quoting from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arcturus:

    Arcturus, the brightest star in the northern celestial hemisphere. Ptolemy called it “subrufa”, meaning “slightly red”.

    Its name derives from Greek: Αρκτοῦρος (Arktouros) and means “Guardian of the Bear”,[29] ultimately from ἄρκτος (arktos), “bear”[30] + οὖρος (ouros), “watcher, guardian”.

    Now, what’s really interesting is the parallel with Alan Rufus. He was William’s chief bodyguard. William’s name is derived as: wil = “will or desire”; helm; Old English helm “helmet, protection”. So William wanted protection, and Alan provided it.

    Alan was buried at the shrine of St Edmund in Bury, Suffolk, where his epitaph called him “the flower of the Kings of Britain”. His Breton name is Alan ar-Rouz (as in red rose). The epitaph also described him as “rutilans” (radiant golden-red). Rutilia of the roman family Rutilius Rufus was the mother of Aurelia of the family Aurelia Cotta, who was the mother of the dictator Gaius Julius Caesar.

    Ambrosius Aurelianus can also legitimately be called Aurelius Ambrosius, as among the Aurelii surname and given name can be exchanged: we have learnt this from the inscriptions in the Hypogeum of the Aurelii in Rome.

    So, whereas Arthur (Arcturus) was “slightly red”, Alan was “radiant”. Alan’s efforts were the culmination of the hopes of his 5th and 6th century predecessor.

  4. The Monasticon Anglicanum, by Sir William Dugdale (1693) is a collection of monastic charters from medieval England. Currently I’m perusing the 1318 pages of volume 1 which was photocopied (rather clumsily) for Google from a copy in the library of Les Fontaines in Chantilly, Picardy, France.

    Among the documents for the Abbey and Cathedral of St Cuthbert in Durham is a confirmation for a royal charter of William I. The confirmation is internally described as occurring at Westminster in a royal council during the year xviii (18) of “my reign”. Counting forward from 1066 brings us to 1083.

    Now, Odo of Bayeux is usually estimated to have been imprisoned in 1082 for the treasonous act of emptying many of England’s garrisons and intending to sail with them to Rome to intercede very forcefully in Papal politics. However, the first signature on this confirmation is that of “Odonis Baiocensis Episcopi”.

    This indicates that Odo’s transgression was not in 1082, but rather in 1083.

    The latter date reconciles the event with William’s comments to Odo when he caught him that Odo had caused him to be diverted from his conflict with Anjou and in Maine.

    Orderic Vitalis noted that during the preparations for the Siege of the very formidable castle of Sainte-Suzanne, the last remaining rebel fastness in Maine, William had suddenly (the narrative gives no explanation) left the field with most of his army, leaving only the royal household knights (his personal bodyguard!), led by Count Alan Rufus, to continue in his absence.

    Connecting the dots, the explanation for William’s departure with almost his entire army is clear.

    On 2 November 1083, his beloved Queen Matilda died. This cannot have improved his mood.

    Nor can it have endeared Odo to Alan, as Odo had twice (in 1069-70 and 1080) used the pretext of peasant rebellion to devastate Alan’s Yorkshire lands, and now Alan was stuck in hostile territory, charged with an impossible task, assailed by a never-ending stream of France’s greatest knights, while Queen Matilda fell ill and died.

    Alan may have been with Matilda around the time she gave birth in Selby, South Yorkshire to Prince Henry (Henry I), which has been estimated to have been in September 1068.

    According to the Registry of the Honour of Richmond, she urged William to grant Alan the forfeited lands of Edwin and Morcar in late 1068 or early 1069.

    Odo remained in prison until his brother Count Robert of Mortain persuaded William I, on his death bed to reprieve him. (The king died in Rouen on 9 September 1087). Judging by Orderic’s account, Robert waited until William I sent his son William back to England, likely with Alan leading the prospective king William II’s bodyguard. That is, Robert dared not make his argument in Alan’s presence.

    William I had grave misgivings, but acceded to Robert’s request on charitable grounds, perhaps in part because his own soul was heavy-laden with guilt for authorising the Harrying of the North – a matter that Alan had recently pressed him on.

    By Easter 1088, Odo, conspiring with most of the Norman magnates in England and Robert “Curthose”, Duke of Normandy, initiated their great rebellion. William II, Alan, a few loyal barons, plus Thomas the Archbishop of York and the English fyrd, took months to defeat it. As recounted by Orderic, the rebels were in grave danger of being hanged (as William II and the English were in one accord that they should have been), but for the loyalists (read: Alan) urging clemency. This time, Odo was exiled permanently, a very small penalty for all the lives he had destroyed.

  5. Geoffrey Tobin says:

    According to Cawley’s “Medieval Lands”, in 1050 Count Eudon issued a charter witnessed by “Ralph the Englishman” (King Edward’s Ralph the Staller), a couple of other Breton noblemen and “Viscount Robert and his brother Odo”.

    Lacking any evidence of a Breton “Viscount Robert”, let alone one with a brother named Odo who was evidently not a Viscount, it has occurred to me that these two signatories might be Duke William of Normandy’s half-brothers, Robert, future Count of Mortain, and Odo, Bishop of Bayeux.

    Robert was indeed a Viscount before he was elevated to Count. Wikipedia claims that this happened in 1049 and that Odo was appointed Bishop of Bayeux in the same year.

    If the identification is correct, then the charter must date before those events, as it does not give either brother his grand title, making the charter actually pre-1049.

    Alternatively, both promotions occurred after 1050: an alternative date of 1055 for Robert becoming Count of Mortain is given by some sites.

    As has often been noted, Robert retained an interest in Breton affairs and many Bretons served as Canons at Bayeux when Odo was Bishop. It’s said that the brothers had a sister named Muriel, which is only likely if they had Breton ancestry. The question then remains whether this was through their father, Herluin, Viscount de Conteville (the title that Robert first inherited), or through their mother Herleva/Arlette who was of course also Duke William’s mother.

  6. Geoffrey Tobin says:

    The charter of 1050 that might be evidence of Duke William’s young half-brothers being in Brittany is from the cartulary of the Abbey of Landevennec in the west of the County of Kernev (Cornouaille).

    Charter 24 in that same cartulary records a Count Haelchod and his son Herleuuin as witnesses of donations on 10 April and 13 August 954.

    Viscount Herluin seems then to have had a Cornish Breton name.

    Since Count Eudon’s wife Orguen was a daughter of Alan Cagniart, the early 11th century Count of Kernev, she may have been related to Herluin, in which case she may have been the reason Robert and Odo witnessed Eudon’s charter at Landevennec.

    This strengthens the possibility that Robert of Mortain and Bishop Odo (Eudo) may have been named after the double-cousins Duke Robert of Normandy and Duke (Regent) Odo (Eudo/Eudon) of Brittany. Even the order of ages, Robert then Odo, implied by the charter, follows that of the two Dukes.

    In this case, we have a threeway set of relationship: Duke William was kin to Duke Eudon who was married to Lady Orguen who was related to Count Herluin who married William’s mother Herleva.

    This would make Count Alan, Count Robert, Bishop Odo and Duke/King William all related by blood.

    Kernev was settled from Cornwall and still speaks a Cornish dialect, so the succession of Eudon’s son Count Brian followed by Count Robert of Mortain as Earls of Cornwall makes perfect sense.

  7. Geoffrey Tobin says:

    On the other side of Brittany, Ralph the Staller’s son Ralph de Gael et de Montfort, who lost the Earldom of East Anglia due to leading the Revolt of the Earls in 1075, died with his wife Emma de Breteuil during their pilgrimage to the Holy Land. A sad end.

    But their story doesn’t end there. Ralph’s male line continued through Guy XIII de Laval, an ancestor of Henry IV of France, the first Bourbon king and grandfather of Charles II of England.

    The family were vassals simultaneously of the Duke of Brittany and the King of France.

    Guy’s eldest son Guy XIV wrote an account of Joan of Arc and continued the family’s close, if complex, association with the intrepid heirs of Count Eozen.

    “In 1420, Guy XIV, only just fourteen years old, was the second person to put his signature to the petition sent to the king of England [Henry V] to demand the release of [Henry V’s step-brother] Arthur, comte de Richemont, the future constable, who had been a prisoner since the battle of Agincourt. The Count of Richemont was freed in the September of that year.

    In 1424, he accompanied Arthur to the brilliant reception he had prepared for queen Yolande of Aragon in [the] château d’Angers. He thus worked to detach the Breton captain from the English and bring about a rapprochement between Brittany and France.”

  8. Geoffrey Tobin says:

    More from Wikipedia on Ralph de Gael’s male-line descendant Guy IV of Laval (his title as heir of the Laval family), whose personal name was François de Montfort-Laval:

    Guy IV was buried at the collegial church of Saint-Thugal at Laval. His daughter Jeanne de Laval (1433–1498) was the wife of René I of Anjou [who was King of Naples and titular king of Jerusalem]. His eldest son, Francis, would be Grand Master of France and comte of Laval (Guy XV de Laval), and one of his cadets [younger sons] Pierre de Laval was archbishop of Rheims.

  9. Geoffrey Tobin says:

    According to “The honour and castle of Richmond”,pages 1-16, in “A History of the County of York North Riding”, Volume 1, Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1914, available online at http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/yorks/north/vol1/pp1-16:

    “The tenants of the honour were said, in the 13th century, to be free of the shire court and of common amercement. (fn. 251) They were also quit of toll throughout England and claimed to have been so since the Conquest. (fn. 252)”

    The footnotes are:

    251. Roger Gale, “Register of the Honour of Richmond”.

    252. In 1379 the Crown acknowledged their prescriptive right to freedom from payment of toll, pontage, murage, pavage, passage, lastage, quayage and picage (Rymer, Foedera, iv [1], 65; Cal. Pat. 1247–58, p. 543; 1377–81, p. 461; 1461–7, p. 474). Clarkson gives an instance of the claim for freedom from toll being successfully asserted at Darlington in 1658 (Hist. of Richmond, 91–2).

    Page 41 of Clarkson’s “History of Richmond” states that: “Edward IV granted to his brother George, Duke of Clarence, the Honour and Lordship of Richmond, with all liberties and franchises belonging to the same, and commanded all sheriffs, constables, bailiffs, ministers, and all others his faithful subjects, that the men and tenants of the Honour of Richmond should be free from the payment of tollage, pontage, pickage, pannage, passage, lastage, and stallage, as they formerly had been from time in which memory does not exist. Dated at Westminster the eighth of March, in the fifth year of his reign.”

    Evidently, working for the Honour of Richmond was very advantageous, especially for merchants!

    The question of course is, how did Alan Rufus obtain such a splendid and enduring (lasting for some six hundred years) England-wide concession for all of his tenants and men?

  10. Geoffrey Tobin says:

    Looking on PASE Domesday (http://domesday.pase.ac.uk) at Alan’s tenants now. As previously noted, a very large proportion are English: often pre-1066 landholders or their heirs who were alive in 1086.

    One tenant from Normandy, Ansketil of Furneaux, had to provide eight knights for castle-guard (presumably at Richmond) in October and November each year. Keats-Rohan’s “Domesday People: Domesday book”, pages 152-153 describes him as ancestor of the Furneaux family. This makes for an interesting British naval connection to both the exploration of Australia and the American War of Independence: see http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/furneaux-tobias-12932 and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tobias_Furneaux.

    Speaking of tenancies, I just noticed that Alan was a subtenant at exactly two places, both of King William I and both in Norfolk: Wymondham, which had been Bishop Stigand’s, and Cawston, which had been Earl Harold’s. (Domesday takes exception to Stigand’s uncanonical consecration as Archbishop of Canterbury, and of course it doesn’t recognise Harold as a King of England.)

  11. Geoffrey Tobin says:

    Amusingly, 1040, the most commonly cited year of birth for Alan Rufus, is, in the Chinese calendar, a Metal Dragon year.

    The metal dragon is allegedly a born leader, who wins people over by strength of character. If no one follows, they go ahead on their own, undaunted by any challenge. Faced with opposition, they explain their case frankly and fearlessly. They will make great efforts to help the victims of ill-fortune or oppression. When betrayed, they are forgiving, though they do not forget. They are very resourceful, even in dire circumstances, because they learn very quickly.

    Such predictions usually fail, and I don’t know any evidence for when Alan was born, but thinking of him as a Metal Dragon (a Metal Pendragon?) makes a great mnemonic.

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